Visiting Washington D.C.

19 September, 2010

Just got back last week from a trip to Washington DC, which as you no doubt know, is full of museums, galleries and history.  We were staying in Alexandria, Virginia, fairly close to the Old Town area which is quite nice and an easy Metro ride away from the heart of DC.

On our way to Alexandria we visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum which is located near Dulles Airport. 

Enola Gay

Enola Gay

It is a staggering collection of aircraft and even some spacecraft in a converted hanger.   Among the gems of the collection are the Enola Gay, the B-29 super fortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the (test) Space Shuttle Enterprise, an Air France Concord supersonic jet, an SR-71 Blackbird, the Dash Eighty, the prototype for the Boeing 707 and the several of the last surviving German WW2 “Wonderweapons” such as the Arado Ar 234 B Blitz jet bomber and the Dornier Do 335A-1.

For a history geek such as myself, it was almost overwhelming.  The three and a half-ish hours we spent there was barely enough.  My flickr photostream of the NASM is here.

Day 2 took us, by Metro, into DC and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, which is a fascinating building all curves and flowing angles with a nice garden area around it planted with various native plants.  The Museum itself is oddly organized as many of the display are by the tribe themselves, telling the stories that they wish to tell.  Which is fascinating but, as a result, there is a lack of overall theme and consistency.  But still worthwhile visiting and the Mitsitam Cafe there serves native dishes, I had pulled buffalo and Laura had buffalo chili on fry bread.


Amazon in the NGA

Then over to National Gallery of Art, east building first, where we were able to visit the Edvard Munch: Master Prints exhibition which was quite fascinating.  I had only know Munch’s work from the Scream (of which their was a black and white print of) and had not know his medium was the print.  The exhibition was full of his experiment with various prints as he worked them through to the final version, quite interesting.  Then we made out way over the the west building, getting lost among the art briefly, to look at more classical art including the only DaVinci in the US which we made a point of seeing and then just drifted through the amazing variety of art in the gallery until it closed.   Then we made our way to the open air National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden where we walked among the art and sat and watched the fountain, a restful end to a busy day.

Day 3 began at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, not a happy place but well worth the visit.  The physical artifacts from the holocaust give the terrible events of that time a weight that simply reading about them cannot.  For students of history and the human condition, I recommend that you visit if you have the chance.

We took a brief break to recover, eating a light meal in the museum’s cafe, before heading back to the Mall.  Where we visited the Freer Gallery which is an interesting blend of Oriental, Islamic and Egyptian art along with work by Whistler (who was a friend of Freer’s).  Quite fun as you were never quite sure what was going to be around the next corner (such as the Peacock Room).  The Freer leads onto the Sackler Gallery which houses even more Asian art which we visited just one floor of as it was getting late.  Our last stop of the day was the National Museum of American History which used to have an amazing early 20th C soda fountain, which sadly was remodeled away since I was last there but we still managed to get some ice cream and see Julia Child’s kitchen and the star spangled banner before the museum closed.

Final Day, traveled up North of the Mall to visit the Renwick Gallery specifically for the Art of Gaman exhibit showing art made by the Japanese-Americans interred during WW2.  A very moving exhibit.  But the rest of the Renwick’s collection is amazing too, crazy modern sculpture and amazing classical paintings rub shoulder.  From there we made the long trek to the American Art Museum passing by the White House (and having to listen to a crazy preacher) on the way.  We went to the museum just to see Telling Stories exhibit of Norman Rockwell art from the collection of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, quite spectacular, most of the piece I had never seen before and the discussion of how Rockwell worked was quite informative.

Amethyst crystals

Amethyst crystals

From there we walked to the National Museum of Natural History, passing the FBI headquarters on the way, and had a late lunch before starting in on the museum.  So much to see there, but we started with the Hope Diamond, which is currently on display sans mounting as a new setting is being made for it.  Then through the amazing collection of gems and minerals (but my favorite red diamond was poorly displayed), volcanism and earthquakes, a hands on forensic anthropology lab where we got to handle bones and work out who they belonged to, the dig at Fort James and using forensic anthropology to work out what happened there, the insect zoo, dinosaurs and early mammals, and then we had to go still leaving much unexplored.

A wonderful, if exhausting, trip.  If you get the chance, do go and visit some of the museums in DC they are full of inspirational and fascinating things.

My Picasa Gallery of the trip:

Trip to Washington DC (Sep 2010)

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